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Paradise, symbols of childhood, and forgiveness

Questions for spiritual reflection and adult group discussions.
By Jane Greer
Summer 2010 5.15.10

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Defining paradise. Rebecca Ann Parker describes three progressive alternatives to popular “end times” theology, which predicts a return to paradise only in the afterlife: “We are here to build the kingdom of God on earth” (Social Gospel Christian­ity), “God intends all souls to be saved” (Universalist Christianity), and “We are already standing on holy ground” (radically realized eschatology). (“We Are Already in Paradise,” page 18)

How would you define paradise? What strengths or drawbacks do you see in each of these views?

Childhood symbols. In Geoffrey Koetsch and Jeremy Chu’s art work (“In/Between,” page 20), two seated figures hold objects in their laps that symbolize childhood memories.

What objects would you choose to symbolize your childhood?

Solutions to suffering. Colin Bossen writes about the tradition of “Black Humanism,” which emphasizes the experiences of oppressed and marginalized people and the creative ways they have responded to injustice: “Since suffering in these communities is most pronounced,” he writes, “the solutions they have found and the visions that they have created are some of the most informative.” (page 21)

Have you found inspiration in the visions of justice of people who have experienced oppression?

Breaking down barriers. Bossen describes his own experiences at techno and house music parties in Detroit where racial, class, and gender differences were often put aside in the dancing. “Music and dance created a space where social norms were ignored.” (“Black Humanism,” page 23)

Have you experienced occasions when racial, class, and gender differences were overcome?

Offering forgiveness. John Buehrens writes about the link between hospitality and forgiveness in progressive churches. He tells the story of the Tennessee Valley UU Church in Knoxville, Tenn., which had its windows shot out in the 1970s for its liberal positions, and thirty years later was targeted by a shooter, who killed two and injured six. Throughout it all, the church vowed to stay open and welcoming. (“The Welcome Table,” page 24)

“There is much to forgive in this world,” Buehrens writes. “Those who have been hurt often know that best. But hospitality, rightly practiced, can be a powerful source of healing.” Has offering hospitality helped you recover from harm or forgive others?

All about you. Buehrens also discusses the sense of entitlement that many Americans have. “Its message is embedded in every ad we hear or see,” he writes. “What matters is you; what you feel, what you want, and above all, what you deserve.” (page 28)

“How can we denounce every public effort to help the poor and vulnerable of our society as an ‘entitlement,’” he asks, “while simultaneously maintaining a culture that seems shot through with entitlement?”

Saint Margaret? Kimberly French claims that it is time to admit the early American feminist and Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller into the pantheon of Unitarian “saints.” “Fuller’s visionary ideas—on the need for both social and personal transformation, rationalism and mysticism, intellectual freedom and religious plurality, and democracy and human rights outside our borders—resonate with modern Unitarian Universalism, arguably more so than her better-known contemporaries.” (“‘Radiant Genius and Fiery Heart,’” page 25)

Whom do you regard as a Unitarian or Universalist saint? Are you inspired by historic figures who embraced Unitarianism or Universalism? Are you marking Margaret Fuller’s bicentennial?

Afterlife? Doug Muder reviews three books with different views of the afterlife. One, a work of fiction, imaginatively explores the different possibilities of an afterlife in a series of short tales; the second, a memoir, looks at the possibility that death is simply extinction; the third discusses premonitions, visions, and unseen presences that have been associated with death. (“What Dreams May Come?” page 56)

What do you think happens at death? Do you think an afterlife exists? Have you ever experienced anything out of the ordinary around the death of a loved one?

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